As I did last year, I decided to race three 70.3 events in four weeks as the culmination of my winter/spring training. I opened up with Chattanooga 70.3 on May 20th, raced Raleigh 70.3 on June 3rd, and capped off the cluster of racing at Eagleman 70.3 on June 10th. This block ended up treating me well in 2017, with a 2nd, 7th, and 4th overall placings, so I was of course confident I could do it again successfully and was hoping to improve upon my results cumulatively as well.
In terms of my training leading into the races, I recorded 19:30 hours of training on average in the 20 weeks from January 1st until Chattanooga 70.3. Forty-six percent of that time was spent on the bike, 28% on the swim, and 26% on the run. I managed to stay injury-free during this entire stretch. I recorded a 5:48 500 SCY time trial and a slew of monster bike sessions that gave me some confidence with my swim and bike fitness. After a decent spring of running road races that saw me record a 15:29 5k, a 32:31 10k, and a 1:11:58 half marathon, I was confident that my running was on track to catapult me up the standings if I was close enough after the swim and bike.
The start list for Chattanooga was impressive, with multiple Ironman and 70.3 champions as well as several other podium contenders. I was certainly going to have my hands full in my opener. Fortunately for me the swim was primarily downstream, and with a large amount of rain in the week leading up to the race, the current was moving. I believe the race organizers cut the upstream section down substantially, so overall I was only in the water for just over 21 minutes. For me, the less time I’m in the water, the better. The start of the swim was hectic as always, and I found myself fighting to stay in a group that included Kevin Collington, Kevin Ryan, and a couple other very fast fish. I managed to stay in their wake for about 3 minutes before they finally popped me off the back. I spent the next three or four minutes swimming solo in no man’s land, between the first pack and the second pack. Finally a couple others came up alongside me and I was able to work with them all the way to the finish, ending up right at the front end of the second pack. I was a little nervous about how my swim performance went, as I didn’t recognize any of the guys I was swimming with, but as I emerged from the water, I quickly saw that my group was only about 20-25 seconds down from another group (I guess the REAL second pack) which included some big names, and guys that were going to end up being players in the race. So I made my way through transition and made a big effort to bridge the gap to those guys. In the process, they were bridging the gap to the remnants of the front swim pack, so by mile 20 of the bike, we had all collected in a draft legal line, and rolling through the Georgia countryside. The pack grew close to 10-12 guys by mile 30. I didn’t particularly feel comfortable riding in such a large line, especially on a hilly course where the line would accordion naturally due to speed changes from uphills to downhills. It made me nervous, so around mile 30 I made a big push to move to the front of the line, and then I told myself to drill it for 10 minutes and see if I could whittle the pack down to a more manageable number. I didn’t look back once during that time, but close to 10 minutes passed, and eventually Matt Hanson came by me and let me know that a gap had opened up between the two of us and everyone else. This was actually more than I had hoped for, and I was feeling good, so for the next 20 minutes Matt and I took turns for about 4 minutes keeping the speed high and keeping the chasing group at bay. Right around his third turn at the front Hanson managed to gap me. In the process of chasing him down, I caught and passed Kevin Collington, who stuck with me until the end of the ride. We came into transition about 30 seconds behind Hanson, 2 minutes behind Jackson Laundry, and close to 8 minutes behind Andrew Starkyowicz. I felt good and opened up the run with a couple miles in the mid 5:30’s before settling down into a more manageable tempo of mid 5:40’s. Kevin and I worked well together for the first 4 miles, and then I got a little excited and took off in pursuit of Hanson and anyone else I could pick up along the way. Hanson was still feeling his incredible race at IM Texas a few weeks beforehand, so he stayed in close proximity, and from mile 4 to mile 9 I meticulously cut his lead down to just a few meters. Then it took me another 2 miles to finally close the gap. I was able to stay strong all the way to the finish, and to my surprise, I finished 3rd overall, only 1:48 down to the eventual champion Starkyowicz. It was no doubt one of my best triathlon races, and it gave me a huge shot of confidence.
After spending a few days recovering and about 7 days getting in some decent training, I tapered back down to give Raleigh a great shot. I had my eyes set on the podium yet again, and I knew with a great race, I would give myself a shot at it. The swim was a lot more honest here, if anything it might have even been a little long, so after sticking with the front group for a few minutes before being “the guy” to get popped off the back (again), I swam in no man’s land for an even longer time before I had company. After 10 minutes of solo swimming, Ricky Flynn came up alongside me as well as one other racer, and we were able to keep the pace honest for the remainder of the swim. I got out just over 28 minutes, which like I said, was not nearly as good for me as only spending 21 minutes in the swim like I did 2 weeks before. That extra 7 minutes allowed the front pack to create a larger gap, and that was going to take quite an effort to close it down. Transition took a bit longer as my swim skin zipper got stuck and I had to Houdini my way out of it before getting on my bike. Once on the bike I was able to see my time gaps to the leaders. I had about 5-6 minutes to the lead and 3 minutes to the next closest rider. My legs felt amazing and I was pushing big power, but something seemed a little off with how I was moving on course. The bike just didn’t seem to respond quite as well. I rode the entire way with Benton Hall and Vinicius Canhedo before picking up two more guys around mile 50 and coming into transition all together. While the overall temperatures were similar to Chattanooga two weeks beforehand, the humidity was off the charts nasty. I started suffering on the run almost immediately, and Alex Libin, who started the run just behind me, took advantage right away. Running in 4th and 5th overall off the bike, he opened up a small gap on me within the first 2 miles, and I immediately had a gut check and went to the limit to try to maintain contact with him, as he was moving well. My entire run ended up bleeding just a few seconds here and a few seconds there all the way to mile 10. By that point he was about 45 seconds ahead of me, and I had totally lost contact. At that point he ran lights out the last 5k to catch 3rd and secure a spot on the podium, and I basically did what I could to close the gap to 4th, but ultimately ended up about a minute short. Still, for a race where I had a couple of mishaps and things didn’t go my way, taking 5th was a nice result. Certainly validation that on a good day, I should be competing for a podium spot in just about any 70.3 I enter.
Raleigh left a really bad taste in my mouth (or was that the Orange Gatorade?). I was definitely fit and a couple of mistakes potentially cost me a couple of minutes and as it turned out a couple of places. Eagleman was going to be a race of redemption for me. I’ve had a good track record at Eagleman. In my first race two years ago I finished 2nd overall, and last year I finished 4th. I was definitely hungry to get back on the podium and be a challenger for the title. Cody Beals was back, as was Andrew Yoder and a newcomer to the race, Tim Rea who came in with an impressive resume. Add to it a couple of guys I had never raced before, I it was shaping up to be another good battle. Eagleman changed the race just a bit this year, and instead of starting in the Choptank River, we had a beach start. The tide was so low that the water was waist deep, probably 300m into the middle of the river. So the start was just chaotic. Nobody really knew what to do (dolphin dives for 300m? Swim? Just wade through the water?) so naturally the pro field ended up doing a little bit of everything. Most guys started out with dolphin dives for a while. Then about half of the field started swimming (myself included). Some guys just started wading through the water, and oddly, they were moving just as fast as those of use swimming. So for a brief bit I stood up, waded for a bit, dolphin dived a little bit more, and then once we got deep enough everyone was off swimming. I think the confusion on what to do caused some guys to maybe go over the red line a bit more than normal, and so a main pack never formed in this swim. There was one guy way off the front, then Yoder and Beals about a minute back, two other guys a minute behind them, and then I came in about a minute later by myself. I could see the two guys a minute ahead of me, so I knew I could bridge up to them on the bike. What I didn’t expect s how long it took for me to do so. I rode solo until about mile 30 where I finally caught the pair. Knowing I didn’t want to mess around and give the three other guys up the road any more time to play with on the run, I shot straight past the pair and kept my power steady and strong. Tim Rea was able to go with me, the other guy dropped off pretty quickly. I was hoping Rea would pull through at least once or twice to help me out in the final 25 miles, but I never asked, and he never did, so I just put my head down and went all the way to T2. I managed to record my fastest ever 56 mi bike split at 2:04:43, putting Rea and me about a minute and a half down to Yoder and a little over 3 minutes down to Beals. I had no idea who the third guy up ahead was, but apparently he was moving, because he hit the run about 2 minutes ahead of Beals. I was first focused on distancing myself from Rea, and I figured in the process that would help me make up time on some of the guys ahead of me. Very quickly out of transition I opened up a 10 second lead that ballooned to about a minute after 3 miles. Yoder had dropped out early in the run, so the 3rd place biker started trailing me. At that point even though we were “enjoying” some of the mildest conditions Eagleman has ever had, it was still getting hot and the sun was beating down on the open pavement. Around mile 5 I spotted second way up in the distance, and I used him as a carrot over the next 4 miles. I finally made the pass to move into second place between miles 9 and 10, and after hearing that Beals was about 5 minutes up the road, I basically started playing defense, making sure that I could protect 2nd as Rea was still within striking distance about 70 seconds back. I was of course very happy to finish 2nd again, and it was my best finish of the racing block, so it was a great way to end the first part of my season.
I am still just as motivated as ever to keep training and racing hard, and I still have confidence that I can put myself into position to break the tape at a 70.3 in the near future. Credit to my success goes to my wife, who is so supportive of my lifestyle, my coach Dave Luscan, who has prepared me well for the rigors of racing professionally, and to my Snapple team and sponsors: without you, I would not have the support and equipment that get me from start to finish as fast as possible.
Not sure exactly what race is next, but most likely I’ll start again in August and roll through the fall on the professional circuit. Happy training and racing, and thanks for reading.